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Goffstown library hosts forums in the wake of hate incidents: ‘We want to be a welcoming community

 The Goffstown Public Library teen reads section
Olivia Richardson
The Goffstown Public Library teen reads section

Caroline Kenney said she shivered when she saw the fliers some other Goffstown residents received this past spring.

“It's just like, oh, this is, this is actually happening, she said. “Like, it's not over there somewhere.”

In March, someone put neo-Nazi propaganda in several driveways across Goffstown, as reported by WMUR. Since then, Kenney and her colleagues at the Goffstown Public Library decided to offer their neighbors a space to grapple with the extremism in their backyard.

Through a host of virtual events called “One Goffstown,” organizers and participants discuss topics like implicit bias, bullying and how to be an ally when hate speech and intimidation occurs.

Dianne Hathaway, the Goffstown library’s director, said the series aims to show how the small town can prevent bias incidents within their own borders.

“People don't realize the undercurrents and that there are incidents happening everywhere,” Hathaway said. “I mean we've seen in the news the swastikas in Portsmouth, in Concord. We don't want to be one of those towns.”

It’s not the first time the Goffstown Public Library has put on these kinds of events. In 2019, they hosted a yearlong series of “Courageous Community Conversations” series about race. Some of the “One Goffstown” events are repeated from that earlier series.

The first in the latest series addressed the definitions of hate crimes and hate speech, with representatives from the Goffstown Police Department and FBI.

Hathaway said that forum was an opportunity for people to learn what is protected by the First Amendment.

“I think based on the comments we received from our guests that evening, they were pleased that we have started the dialogue because for them — in law enforcement, that's where progress happens,” Hathaway said.

She said law enforcement stressed that reporting incidents, even if small, can add up in helping to address hate speech and crime.

While some people might already have a solid understanding of these topics, Hathaway said she’s heard from people in attendance who still walk away with a new perspective — for example, learning that they carry biases not just with race or gender but also based on someone’s weight. She also said people may find that when discriminatory events occur they don’t know how to actually help — maybe they don't even want to get involved.

“Even though Goffstown is not very diverse, we want to be a welcoming community for everyone. Our town is changing. Our state is changing,” Hathaway said. “We hear a lot about, ‘Wow, we don't have any trouble with race, gender, anything in our state,’ and yeah, we do.”

Hathaway admits that these conversations can come off a bit like preaching to the choir. She said some people don’t attend because they might not think they need to learn about implicit bias. But she said there’s always more to learn.

“We want all of us to get along and live side by side with each other in harmony,” Hathaway said. “It sounds like a bad song, but that's what our goal is — to make sure that we can all talk to each other.”

The library as an institution, Hathaway said, is the place to hold these conversations, even when things can get heated.

While churches are another organization that can initiate and hold talks about social injustices and issues, Hathaway pointed out that as religious organizations might not appeal to everyone.

Libraries, she said, can serve as a more neutral space and naturally hold different talking points through books and media it serves to the public.

As they’ve been organizing the series, Kenney said she’s reflected back on a contentious series of conversations about funding for the library, which ended up widening to a discussion of its broader role in the community.

“I think some of it was along the lines that libraries aren't relevant anymore and nobody comes to the library,” Kenney said. “And I'm like, ‘We can tell you otherwise.’”

The “One Goffstown” series will continue through August. More details are available on the Goffstown Public Library website.

Copyright 2023 NHPR. To see more, visit NHPR.

Olivia Richardson
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